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Posts published in “Idaho”

National security and Idaho

The national security debate within the Republican Party is writ in Idaho too - smaller scale, but with points intact.

Conditions around the world are in other words coming home to Idaho politics, in a way that hasn’t much been the case for a long time.

A quick recap first. U.S. House Republican leadership to this writing has essentially blockaded aid measures for Ukraine and Israel, whether or not coupled with funding and other measures relating to  border security long proposed by Republicans. Their Senate counterparts have pressed on, working with the chamber’s Democrats. One effort including the border provisions collapsed after House leadership registered opposition, but on February 13 the Senate passed a national security package including help for Ukraine and Israel. It now goes to the House. (There is some talk of the House accepting the bill if a border section is attached; we’ll see. Conditions are fluid at the moment.)

The senators voting in favor included 22 members of the Republican caucus (close to half). Along with Minority Leader Mitche McConnell, they included Idaho’s senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch. Risch, as ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been a persistent backer of help for Ukraine.

All of which will likely strike many Americans as good news. But not in the offices of the Idaho Republican Party.

An e-mailed statement from the party shortly after the Senate vote said that, “The priorities in DC are misplaced. Americans are struggling financially, our border is wide open and untold hundreds of thousands are entering our country illegally. Americans are not interested in funding more foreign wars, instead needing relief here at home. Every taxpayer dollar that we send to fund the war in Ukraine prolongs a conflict that has the potential to spin out of control, even leading to a third World War. This bill must be stopped in the House.”

The last part of the statement has it somewhat backward: It is to keep the conflict from spreading - Russia taking on other targets - the aid to Ukraine most specifically is in American interests.

The statement was also interesting in three things it did not mention. First, it didn’t specifically mention aid to Israel, which most Republicans as well as Democrats have strongly backed. Second, it didn’t mention funding and law changes related to the border, which were in the earlier Senate bill that the House essentially blew up.

And third, it didn’t mention directly Idaho’s two senators: It left the criticism of them implicit.

The senators issued their own statement after the vote, saying (along with accurately pointing out non-assistance defense measures in the bill) “It is critically important we help defend Israel, prohibit funding for the antisemitic UN Relief and Works Agency, stop the advancement of China, and halt Russia from once again expanding its adversarial empire. … we must support allies who will stand with us in what is a very dangerous time globally.”

They offered in other words an actual recognition of American interests, both immediate and longer-range, of the kind not visible in the Idaho Republican statement. National analysts pointed out that many of the Republican senators who joined that effort have relatively strong backgrounds in foreign relations, the military or both.

The bill now goes to the House. Representative Russ Fulcher almost certainly will go along with the House leadership position in opposition to it.

And maybe Representative Mike Simpson will too.

But maybe Simpson’s vote shouldn’t be written off too quickly. Risch has been a strong advocate for help for Ukraine and Israel both, and I could imagine that Simpson might pay attention to what he has to say.

The security of the nation and the world may count on conversations like that in the next few days.


Processed budgets

From Idaho’s Joint Finance Appropriations Committee come lessons in whether complication improves the process … or, what could possibly go wrong?

For decades - generations, actually - the Idaho legislative budget committee acronymed JFAC has had a consistent procedure when it comes to hearing budget proposals and then setting - writing and voting on - actual budgets for state spending on agencies and beyond.

It has involved splitting the work into two parts, spanning nearly all of most sessions. First come the hearings, in which state officials and others involved talk about what they need and propose, in a single comprehensive overview. Once that’s done, they take a short breather, after which the committee members go through the agencies one by one and pass a long series of budgets. All of it is time consuming and attention devouring, often taking most of their mornings during the session. The legislative session usually ends around two weeks after the committee has finished its work, which is about how long the budgets take to pass through action on the floors.

This has worked pretty well for a very long time. That doesn’t mean it can’t be improved, or that legislative leaders shouldn’t try. Other states use various approaches and for the most part all are able to make them work too.

But if you’re going to change the system, be careful. Budget-setting for a state government is complex and sometimes emotional and highly political, and the process should be well understood and broadly accepted. And there should be no hint of under-the-table philosophical agendas.

The new process for this session, promoted by House Speaker Mike Moyle and adopted by the JFAC co-chairs, Senator Scott Grow and Representative Wendy Horman, calls for fracturing the process. It begins with passing, in advance of any hearings, a “bare-bones” budget for everyone - just enough, presumably, to keep the lights on - and then, after a much shorter public hearing process (fewer public statements from agency advocates, more decisions behind closed doors), considering what should be added to (or maybe subtracted from) the bare bones. This back-and-forth approach tends to remove things from their context.

The initial “bare bones” budgets this session were passed by JFAC shortly after the start of the session, in a single two and a half-hour session on January 16. All 15 committee Republicans voted in favor, and the five Democrats voted against. The nays were vocal about it. Senator Janie Ward-Engelking, for example, said “We received these budgets on Friday and are being asked to vote on them on Tuesday, to set the entire budget for the state in the second week of the session before we even have a change in employee compensation recommendation in place, before we have the Millennium Fund recommendation in place.” In other words, a budget was being passed before committee members even had the relevant information for making even any broad-brush decisions.

Apparently,  many of the committee’s Republicans apparently started having second thoughts, too.

On February 2, a dozen JFAC members - a majority, most Republicans but including Democrats - decided they wanted to pass their own budgets, after gathering more information to hand. Representative Britt Raybould explained some of that: “The budget that was outlined at the beginning of the year did not actually reflect all of the maintenance line items … In most instances it left out nondiscretionary, it left out replacement items and other what you think of as sort of regular and expected fund adjustments.”

That means two entirely different and conflicting budgets are wandering around the legislature, with lawmakers concerned about what might happen if multiple budgets wind up being passed.

There isn’t anything fatal about this. In the worst case, if the legislature were to actually pass more than one conflicting budget (they’ll say it couldn’t happen, and it’s unlikely, but never say never) the governor could veto one; or, a normal rule of legislative construction might mean that the last one passed takes precedence.

But the whole new system does seem to be resulting in more heat and less light when it comes to deciding how the state’s dollars should be sent.

Which may be fine with some people, ideology depending. But Idahoans simply hoping for a smoothly functioning government are likely to have their doubts.


Schooled on guns

Idaho House Bill 415 fits so neatly into a central piece of political rhetoric that the surprise is that its progress at the legislature has been slowed as much as it has; which is to say, not much.

The bill provides that any public school employee - who obtains an enhanced concealed weapons permit, not terribly hard to get - who wants to carry a firearm or other “deadly weapon” to school can do it, whether local administrators and school boards like it or not. The sponsor, Representative Ted Hill of Eagle, said, “These select school employees will provide an armed force to protect children in the first minutes of an attack. We don’t want to have a stack of 20 kids dead in a classroom because we didn’t do anything.”

The National Rifle Association couldn’t have put it more simply.

After what looked like a short pause, the Idaho House passed it this week (53 to 16, veto-proof), to the Senate for consideration there.

Here are some of the things it does.

Any pistol-packing school employee would have absolute state clearance to carry, regardless whether school principals, teachers, parents, boards or anyone else likes it, “as long as the firearm or deadly weapon is concealed and the school employee maintains immediate control” of it. I’m trying to imagine how that would work in a high school environment. What does that imply about the handling and carrying of guns by staff?

I say “school employee” here because the packers can include not only teachers but, “an officer, board member, commissioner, executive, elected or appointed official, or independent contractor.” Imagine someone who isn’t an educator but has some business relationship with the district … who maybe has a history of domestic or other violence … and obtains an enhanced license. You doubt that could ever happen? Think again. And think as well about how much easier a real shooter would find infiltrating a school already accustomed to seeing adults routinely carrying firearms.

Think too about the school employees who may be well trained to teach but maybe less well schooled on emergency tactical response. The bill has that inexperience question covered this way: “No school employee shall be held civilly or criminally liable for deciding to engage or not to engage in an armed confrontation during a lethal threat to safety inside of a school or on school property. The decision to use a firearm or other deadly weapon during a life-threatening incident inside of a school or on school property lies solely within the school employee and is a personal decision.”

So: If a covered school employee simply decides to pick up their gun - and start firing - the immunity is apparently absolute, regardless who was injured or killed. I can hear right now a smart defense attorney defending a murder charge using this provision as a shield. The beweaponed employee’s personal belief is enough for a shield against any kind of legal action, civil or criminal.

These employees will not be compelled to disclose to anyone but a school administrator (and maybe board: it’s unclear there) and local law enforcement that a gun is in the classroom. In fact, the bill adds a new exemption for Idaho public records law: Any records relating to a school employee who’s carrying. A mere parent would be unable to find out if there’s a gun in their child’s classroom.

Private schools would be specifically exempted from the requirement. The bill’s opening paragraphs seem to endorse carrying guns there too, but a later section says: “Nothing in subsection (4) of this section shall limit the right of an owner of private property, including a private school, from permitting or prohibiting the carrying of a concealed firearm or other deadly weapon on his property.” If it’s such a good idea for public schools, then why not their private counterparts?

There’s also this curious if minor punitive provision: “No public school shall display any signage whatsoever indicating that school property is a gun-free zone, and any violation of this subsection shall result in a fine of three hundred dollars ($300), enforced by the county prosecuting attorney.”

Current state law already allows local school districts to set their own policies, and some Idaho districts do allow some heat-packing by staff. But a Post Falls police detective has pointed out that conditions are different in the various school districts. "In the Post Falls School District, we have a very close relationship with our police department. We’re able to have responding officers at any location in the district within three minutes or less than that. … We need to talk about what’s best for each individual school district."

That’s a problem when legislation devolves to the level of a bumper sticker. As it has here.

As it is, the Idaho Legislature may well pass this thing; it can be labeled “pro-gun” and therefore hard to oppose. But be aware: Extra warnings may be needed in future when you send the kids off to school.


How do you feel?

The Boise State University public policy survey has been undertaken, in one name or another, going back into the last century, and one question often seems to be the cornerstone of it: Is the state heading in the right or wrong direction?

The easy and typical take on the opinion poll is to point out how different the views of Idahoans are as reported in the polls compared with those of their legislators. For example, in a column in January 2017 I asked how the views of the polled would match with those of the people on the third floor of the Statehouse during the legislative session. (The spoiler is: They don’t match up well at all.)

This year, the venerable survey (it’s almost a surprising the legislature hasn’t tried to ban it) got a little extra attention because, in contrast to every year previous, the prevailing answer to the standard right direction/wrong direction question was - 43 percent to 40.7 percent - leaning to the the wrong direction.

But what does that mean?

Based on recent statements, both a hard-line Republican like party Chair Dorothy Moon and, for example, an abortion choice activist realistically might say “wrong direction,” but what each of them intends by that would be completely different.

Why did that 43 percent contend Idaho was headed the wrong way? About 15% of them blamed Republicans and conservatives (this accounted for 23.2 percent of Democratic respondents), but 7.9 percent pointed to liberals and Democrats (20.4 percent of Republicans chose this). (I’m not sure how that second problem area is supposed to work as a practical matter in the context of Idaho.)

Another 11.8 percent blame politicians and the legislature, apparently indiscriminately; and 6.7 percent took issue with “abortion issues/women’s right,” but without a specific indication of which side was right and which wrong. Another 12.1 percent didn’t like Californians and other immigrants arriving, but that could represent a mix of negative attitudes aimed at conservatives, liberals, people from another country or something else.

And so on. So what we get is that a lot of Idahoans are dissatisfied, but there’s not a lot of clarity as to why.

We do get a little more clarity in other areas.

The survey asked what the top legislative priorities should be - not exactly what the answers are, but where action is needed. Education came in first, followed by jobs and the economy, housing, health, taxes, and the environment. Tht roster held more or less evenly across partisan ranks, which doesn’t offer a lot of explanation for the legislation that has dominated attention at this year’s session so far.

The closest thing to a clear through line here may come from another attitude question: “Over the next two years, do you expect the economic condition in Idaho to get better, worse, or stay about the same?

Put aside that what better or worse may mean to various Idahoans is likely to vary, and consider this: While the largest portion (37.8 percent) figured things will stay about the same, that was closely followed (36.2 percent) by those who estimate things will get worse. A paltry 19 percent think economic conditions in Idaho will be improving.

And here’s something that ought to be notable: Republicans were the bears on the upcoming economy, while Democrats were the bulls. The people who have controlled the state are a lot more pessimistic than the people complaining from the outside. Not only that, while the Democratic take on optimism/pessimism has been relatively stable in recent years, Republicans have cratered in their optimism in the last two to three years.

A majority of Idahoans evidently have taken their stands on one side in the political-culture wars. But there remain plenty of others who aren’t joining them there. The divisions within Idaho - as demonstrated by feelings - remain real.


Not what it was

In the last 20 years, you can track the trend line of Idaho conservatism - here meaning in the way it is most commonly intended - alongside that of its maybe most prominent non-party organization, the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

This is noteworthy now especially because the IFF is at an inflection point, with the departure of the only leader it has ever had - Wayne Hoffman - and the arrival of a new one, Ron Nate. That inflection point, though, seems to extend not to a different direction but to an acceleration of the same one.

But first a little history.

The origins of the IFF, as the group’s About web page indicates, go back to a small group of Canyon County enthusiasts in libertarian politics, of which the spark plug was a businessman named Ralph Smeed. I knew Smeed (as did Hoffman, who evidently was much influenced by him). He was a regular visitor to the Caldwell newsroom where I worked in the mid-70s and to many events I covered. He struck me as a likable guy (attack politics in today’s sense weren’t his thing, and his political criticisms tended toward the ideological), as single-minded on the subject of less government and taxes but vague when it came to specifics and implications. He was much enamored of the “Austrian” school of economics (notably Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises), which matched with his cultural and business views.

After a periodical (the Idaho Compass, of which future Senator Steve Symms was also a contributor) and a small think tank (the Center for the Study of Market Alternatives) failed to make large waves outside committed libertarian circles, he and several cohorts looked into founding an organization with more impact. With Hoffman, they in 2008 set the framework for the IFF.

That’s what it was originally about: Promotion of the libertarian idea. The group’s about page still says “The Idaho Freedom Foundation exists to advance the conservative principles — limited government, free markets and self-reliance …”

I suspect that Smeed, who died in 2012, would barely recognize it now.

One reason may have its roots in another sentence from the web site: “At that point [in 2008], every state in the country had a free market think tank except for Idaho.” When the Idaho group was founded, it joined the club, more or less, and over time became caught up in national political/cultural enthusiasms, whether “social justice,” critical race theory,  cryptocurrency advocacy, “porn literacy” and similar issues. It didn’t abandon libertarianism entirely, but it’s efforts turned into a local-outlet mirror of one side of the national culture wars.

The elevation of Ron Nate to leadership of the organization seems to confirm as much and may expand it.

Nate is a former state representative from Rexburg (Republican of course), though he narrowly lost his primary election in 2018, and after returning to the House in 2020, lost another in 2022. That may be an indicator.

He co-founded the Madison Liberty Institute, whose policy statements track closely with the state Republican Party leadership. After Governor Brad Little’s state of the state address, for example, the group released a statement largely critical of the governor (that sounded a whole lot like GOP Chair Dorothy Moon’s), and included a quote from Nate: “The Governor may mean well, but throughout his address he raises concerns with his tendency toward using executive orders to achieve his aims.”

He also has been the Madison County chair of anti-LGBT MassResistance, an extreme group deep into the culture wars and says of itself, “We engage in issues and events that most other conservative groups are afraid to touch.” (The group is national, active in many states.)

And this has gone pretty far down that road; von Hayek and von Mises no longer seem to be much of the picture. Somehow I doubt Smeed would have had truck with contracting a propagandist from the alt-right to help with messaging.

The IFF isn’t what it was, if it ever was.


The critics within

On Monday, Governor Brad Little delivered a generally upbeat state of the state address, citing some advances the state has seen and some ideas for new efforts (education seems to be the big one) for the year to come. Nothing terribly unusual.

There wasn’t a lot in it to upset many people. In a normal political situation, the opposing party might take a few shots, not that Little gave the Democrats a lot to work with.

One web page from his site described it: “Governor Little presented the most conservative budget recommendation since the Great Recession - just 2.2% General Fund growth. When you look at the TOTAL budget, Governor Little proposes to spend $200 million less this year than last year.

Governor Little's IDAHO WORKS budget positions Idaho for continued success by reining in spending while making meaningful investments in public schools and infrastructure while delivering even more tax relief.”

He did draw sharp criticism, however: From the state leader of his own party.

Within hours of its delivery, state Republican Chair Dorothy Moon sent out a release in response to the speech that sounded, in tone, a lot like something the opposing party would generate. In fact, that’s almost what it was.

“Like many of you, I watched Governor Brad Little’s State of the State address this afternoon hoping to hear him promote smaller government and fiscal responsibility, values that conservative Republicans hold dear. I regret to say that I was left mostly disappointed,” she wrote. “I am once again concerned with the amount of spending the Governor has proposed in his new budget. He continues to use the word ‘investment’ for what really should be described as ‘spending,’ as in spending our tax dollars for projects that might be better suited for local government or even the private sector.

“The Governor has proposed an additional $2 billion for public school infrastructure, $800 million for transportation, doubled funding for school advisors, and more. Despite this, he claimed that his new budget cuts $200 million from last year and is the most fiscally conservative budget since the Great Recession. Now, I don’t know how that math works out, but I’m skeptical. As with prior years, this address was all about how much of your money the Governor wants to spend (or invest) throughout the state.”

A press release from the governor’s office may have been a counter to this, saying “Governor Little presented the most conservative budget recommendation since the Great Recession - just 2.2% General Fund growth. When you look at the TOTAL budget, Governor Little proposes to spend $200 million less this year than last year. Governor Little's Idaho Works budget positions Idaho for continued success by reining in spending while making meaningful investments in public schools and infrastructure while delivering even more tax relief.”

Put another way, Little’s budget was hardly expansive, considering the still-strong Idaho state revenues.

But then, Moon’s statement hardly seemed like a granular policy difference. It seemed more a statement of position and intent: The state party is over here, and the governor - of which many of the top state party leaders have been in a state of disapproval for some years - is over there. Lines have been drawn, with legislators encouraged to take note.

If more evidence of line-drawing was needed, there was the vote at its winter meeting earlier this month in favor of nine resolutions from the state party dictating what the Idaho Legislature - or its Republicans, which is close to the same thing - should do about a number of issues. Notable among these were proposals to greatly limit (or eliminate) citizen initiatives, and at least one shot aimed directly at the governor, relating to nomination and selection of county commissioners to fill vacancies.

You might add to that the recent change in one of the influential organizations around the Idaho Legislature, the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which just changed its leadership, a possible indicator of what may be coming there. (More on this in a future column.)

Summing up, this first week of the legislature gives the impression that this year’s session will be a lot like recent sessions, only more so.


Watching the session

The Idaho Legislature is about to return for another go, and you may - or, like many people, not - want to keep on top of what’s going on there.

But it’s definitely in your own self-interest to at least keep an eye on them.

Here’s a positive note about the Idaho Legislature: They’ve actually made it easy for people to watch them, from the comfort of their homes or anywhere they can use a smartphone.

When I covered the Idaho Legislature as a reporter, quite some time ago, the internet wasn’t a factor, or even known beyond some academic and government circles. If I were covering it now, digital communications would be a central tool. Watching and reading online really isn’t as good as being there, but it’s remarkably informative anyway.

When I came to work at the Statehouse, a first job each day was to check the status of legislation and find out what was going on, in committees and on the floor, that day.

You can do this online through the legislative sessions web page ( which gives you most of what you need to know. You can find a list of every piece of legislation introduced in the “Mini-data” (in print form, it’s a single sheet of paper showing the bill numbers, a brief description of it, and where in the process it is). Changes from the previous day are usually marked with an asterisk; I often scanned through it for anything I earlier missed.

Committees are where much of the action happens for most of the session, and a list of legislative committee meetings can be found on the sessions page. Follow that and you can check on all committee meetings for the next two or three days; they’re supposed to be posted well in advance.  Minutes are posted too for meetings during the session.

Text and bill analysis is linked as well from a number of places (the most efficient is through the Mini-Data). The committees also review state regulations, mainly in the early part of the session, and those are available online too.

Floor calendars - a list of the bills and resolutions planned for action (or simply for a formal “reading” with no debate), usually (not always) clear descriptions of each, are available there too.

That’s all solid basic material, but what if you want to watch the legislators in action?

It’s easily done from the page at Working with Idaho Public Television, the legislature has arranged to provide video recordings of almost every meeting at the session, both on the floor and in committees. These are highly useful. When it came to floor sessions in the pre-net days, reporters often would hang around for hours to watch for the specific bill or debate of special interest; toward the end of the session, legislators often are on the floor for hours each day. Now, recorded video can be easily scanned through; if you have an agenda, you can quickly find the debate or testimony you’re interested in.

You don’t have to watch any of this live; if watching it at night, or days or weeks later is more convenient, that works. (Many past sessions are available in the archives too.)

The legislature over the next three months or so will be considering bills, resolutions and more that will affect the lives of people all over Idaho; you can draw plenty of examples of that from last year’s session. The best way to start to have an impact on that is to keep up with what they’re doing.

The good news is, that part really isn’t too hard.

The more difficult part comes in figuring out what to do about what you see. But to take action, you need to have the facts in hand first.


Will the brakes work?

Last week, I wrote about the growing links and connections the far right has been developing in some of the most politically influential sectors of Idaho. It’s part of a string of 2023 down sides of important developments in the state.

Those are cause for concern, but not despair; they should translate to action, not passivity. Today, looking ahead to a new year, a few thoughts on Idaho developments that show positive things can happen and that people in the state can make progress, that extremism at least can still be countered in the Gem State.

It’s still possible to hit the brakes before the state goes over the cliff.

You may be asking for some evidence of that.

The clout in Idaho of the far right, to which now should be appended the (ill-named) Idaho Freedom Foundation, is large, sweeping through the corps of elected officials, many state legislators among others, not to mention the state Republican Party structure. But it is not absolute.

Within the party, there’s rapidly growing pushback. Dozens of former and some current Republican elected officials have spoken out and, more important, organized. Their success is yet to be determined, but first steps have been taken; among them a willingness of people to go on the record. Legislators, too, have been pushing back. When a half-dozen of them in Idaho Falls were accused of crossing the party platform (which charge doesn’t even seem supportable, but no matter), those legislators refused to be called on the carpet for doing their jobs. It was a positive sign.

So is the push, by way of a ballot initiative through a non-partisan organization, for open primaries and ranked choice voting. These changes to state election law could have the effect of improving chances that the large voting population in the middle will have its voices heard and its votes made more effective. The measure already has passed, its advocates say, 50,000 petition signatures, which makes it a better than even bet for reaching the ballot next November - and if it does, chances of passage would be decent at least. The legislature still could mess with it after that, but enough members might understand that as too provocative.

Within Idaho government, mainly in areas where extremists have less voice, there’s been some useful activity. Governor Brad Little’s Idaho Launch program started in October, which aims to help as many as 10,000 Idaho high school students link with post-secondary education (community colleges and other options) specifically related to employment, appears to be an excellent effort. Others, including Empowering Parents, may show some useful results in years to come too.

The bad actors on the extremes have not been getting away easily, either, in a significant number of cases. Consider the legal action undertaken in Coeur d’Alene against would-be disrupters of the year before. Remember also: Ammon Bundy is in hiding and on the run.

Don’t forget either some smart activity on the part of Idaho Democrats - and yes, there has been some. I’ve talked with Democrats this year who have, unusually for their party, started looking far ahead and deep into the grass roots toward a rebuild of their operation and election chances in Idaho. They have a massive challenge, to be sure, but more than in a long time, a number of determined people are organizing and approaching it in a more practical fashion.

The times can allow for it, too. The doom-laden world view of the extremes to the contrary, much is going well in both the state and the nation: The economy (in remarkably positive shape overall, in Idaho and nationally), peace (for the United States at least), a passing of the pandemic and much more. The times can allow for improvement and, for the fair-minded, be cause for optimism.

The perspective is never as monochrome as it sometimes looks.

Hang in there in ‘24. The ride may be bumpy, but we’ll get through it.


Links and ties

It was just about 50 years ago that Richard Butler, an expatriate Californian, came to Kootenai County and founded the Aryan Nations, physically established near Hayden Lake.

It established some notoriety within a few years as a hub of activity for extremist and racist people and groups. After a lawsuit effectively extinguished it in 2000, Coeur d’Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem reflected, “we had people living in this community and in this area that were full of fear. We had many people that lived outside of this community that wouldn’t come here because they were afraid.”

That was true, but within this context: The Aryan Nations compound included only a small number of people, serving as an outpost in a society that emphatically did not accept it. When the compound was razed, the community overwhelmingly cheered. The racists were largely unconnected to the larger community.

Kootenai County still is a target for extremism, as the Patriot Front group showed in June 2022 when 31 people associated with it were arrested by law enforcement when they apparently were planning to disrupt a pride parade. They poured into Coeur d’Alene from around the nation.

The difference now is that some elements of extreme groups are much better connected.

Consider the national and Idaho linkages of one recent newcomer to the state - as just one example among many, this one being different for having picked up strong news attention.

The best known recent far-right event nationally was the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia - no doubt you remember it. One of the people there was a talk radio host named Dave Reilly, who said he attended to write about the event, which he did (notably on Twitter). But a report in InvestigateWest says he also “was part of a private invitation-only online group involved with brainstorming, planning and promoting the rally, courtroom testimony and leaked chat messages subsequently revealed.” You don’t get that kind of invite without close connections to the people running it.

Online posts also indicate his support for the America First Political Action Conference, founded, as the Spokane Spokesman-Review reported, “by Nick Fuentes, a former co-host of a podcast with James Allsup, the former Washington State University student who was ejected from the Whitman County Republican Party and whose appearance at a Spokane County Republican Party gathering prompted the resignation of the party’s chair. Both Fuentes and Allsup have been banned from social media platforms for views espousing white nationalism.”

Reilly has moved to Idaho, where in 2021 (a year after his arrival) he ran for a seat on the Post Falls school board - with the endorsement of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee. He lost, but running against a lifelong Post Falls resident who had organized backing, and after Reilly’s own past was aired in news reports, he pulled a respectable 46.6% of the vote.

Michelle Lippert, a school board member who worked with Citizens for Post Falls Schools in opposition to Reilly’s candidacy, was quoted, “You want to know the difference between back in the 80s and now? When the Aryan Nations were big in this area you saw young men with shaved heads and jackets with patches on them and saw men with sort of a pseudo-Nazi uniform? Today they wear ties and jackets and don’t shave their heads. They don’t stick out.”

Reilly turned up in Idaho news again this fall, with reports that the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which is as influential as any organization in Idaho Republican politics, had hired him as a contractor on communications. The IFF is extremely well connected in Idaho politics; its word carries major weight in the Idaho Legislature.

The InvestigateWest article noted a raft of ironies: “The Idaho Freedom Foundation, which began in 2009 as a libertarian-leaning free-market think tank, has been contracting with the self-described Christian nationalist — who’s said ‘free markets are a problem,’ who hates ‘libertarianism more than any other political ideology,’ and who compares conservatives who make capitalism their highest value to ‘being a slave and BEGGING your massa to keep you in chains’.”

A half-century has indeed made a big difference in Idaho, and that’s going beyond appearances.